Goodbye?

IMG_20190413_114341782_HDRIt’s time.  My Specialized Camber FSR 29″ has been a great first serious mountain bike, but its size medium frame has always been a little too small for my 6’1″ body.  I am still hedging a bit, but I listed it for sale this past Saturday, with links to the Craigslist ad posted on several mountain bike group sites, as well as FB Marketplace.

I picked up the bike from the shop last Friday afternoon, paid them $200 to assemble the components from the old frame to the warranty replacement frame.  The bike now has a new medium frame, new drive train (cassette, chain, chainrings, rear derailleur), new handlebar grips, seat, and tires that were new last August.  The shocks have been serviced and rebuilt, as has the bottom bracket.

If the bike fit me, I would keep it.  It’s ready for the season and it looks very good.  The picture was taken last Saturday morning, before I washed up the tires for the listing.  I love the bike and just spent a little over $450 to get it ready to ride.  Instead, I am crossing my fingers that someone will buy it for close to the $1500 asking price (my basement price is $1000).  The money I get will go towards the purchase of a new bike that will fit me.

Someone offered me $750 last night, told me that a bike blue book website says it is only worth close to $800 in good condition.  I told him I would take $1200 since the site doesn’t take into account a new frame and components that were upgraded to Rockshox and SRAM GX from the Suntour suspension and low end Shimano shifting components the website used to calculate the value.  $1200 is a very fair price for this bicycle, as is the $1500 asking price.  There are also two people coming by to look at the bike tonight.  I am not going to give the bike away and will simply keep it if I don’t get the price that I want.

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1977

Outside the large storefront windows of the Panera I am sitting in right now, the snow is swirling steadily, a mid-April storm that is bringing a wetted white to the landscape.  Not one to groan too much about the weather, unless it is weather that interrupts my mountain biking for too long, I am enjoying the contrasting beauty of the winter whiteness mingling with the early Spring greens.  Here in northern Illinois, the buds are just beginning to appear, the grass pushing up and promising the warmer weather to come.  Today will be a day to relax in the way God intends, his creation observed from the warmth indoors as well as venturing outside to experience it firsthand.

A friend just texted me to lament the snow, her anxiety rising as she observed the large flakes surging past her window, all from the comforting warmth of her covers.  Stay in bed for a while, I encouraged her.  I couldn’t help but share with her how much I love these Spring snow storms.

My mind can’t help but go back to this time in 1977, the year of the huge Easter snow and ice storm that brought central Illinois to a two week halt.  I don’t remember exactly when the storm hit, just that it was shortly before Easter Sunday.  Thick layers of ice coated trees, yards, roads, power lines… everything, so much that we didn’t have power for nearly two weeks.  Travel was treacherous, not impossible, but only attempted when necessary.  No power also meant no heat in the house, the little bi level house my family lived in quite cold with the unusual weather.  We didn’t have a fireplace, so my parents cautiously heated our home with the gas kitchen stove in the evenings, and a Coleman camp heater in our living room when it got really cold.  My family huddled around the heater by candlelight, telling stories and singing while Mom played the piano.  We didn’t miss the TV too much, rather enjoyed the time without it.

Easter Sunday was special that year.  I remember going to church that morning, the church full despite the challenge to travel there (my family walked to church — or rather we half walked, half skated/slid).  Families huddled together in the wooden pews to keep warm, the church auditorium candle lit, the atmosphere warm with the quiet that comes when there is no amplification or organ music.  Mom played the piano enthusiastically as the congregation sang, the mood worshipful in a way that was special to the moment, people coming together and the stress melting away even as the ice was freezing outside.  I remember watching the fog in the air as everyone sang.  The scent of bacon and pancakes and eggs drifted up from the church basement as the church elders and deacons cooked the annual Easter sunrise breakfast.  Even an ice storm with a power outage could not prevent the annual breakfast from happening.  By the time the Easter sunrise service was over, my stomach was growling from hunger, the tempting smells drawing my thoughts away.

Somehow mom managed to get a nice ham with the fixings for our Easter meal.  We gathered around the table, snug in our coats, as we ate our meal.  The sun came out that day, the storm over, illuminating the bright landscape made even brighter by the ice.

1977 was my sophomore year of high school.  Our school Spring break was extended a week by the power outage and ice.  Even though my friends and I reveled outside during the break, I was anxious about going back to school.  The unplanned school closing meant that the first two track meets of the season would be cancelled, something I was looking forward to.  My freshman year had been a successful running season, a confidence booster as I established myself running the middle distances.  I was hoping my success from my freshman year would carry into my sophomore year.  I was itching to run the entire week.  Instead, my friends and I found ways to have fun on the ice.  We skated in our backyards and on the street, played broom hockey.  One afternoon, we tied a long rope to a metal disc sled and took turns whipping each other around in circles on the street in front of my house.  There was one problem — we swung one guy too close to a car and the rope broke just before the car, shooting him underneath the car.  His mother wasn’t too happy with us, especially when she had to take him to the hospital for x-rays on his (broken) arm!

Once the weather broke, the temperatures rewarded us with beautiful days.  Power was restored.  The ice was replaced by wonderful green.

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The view from my living room yesterday.  Lovely!

The storm of 2019 was mild compared to that 1977 ice storm.  It was wet, with lots of pretty snow.  Of course, I wouldn’t have minded missing a day or two of work….

Flow

Tuesday night was one of the best evenings yet this year.  I visited SWK for a single track ride, the chance to ride in shorts and tee shirt on trails in pristine condition something I just could not pass up.  Weather for the next few days was not predicted to be dry or favorable.  What greeted me when I arrived for my ride was a packed parking lot, with one empty spot next to where my friends Greg and Carrie were parked.  I saw other vehicles I recognized.  It was near certain that I would encounter friends somewhere along the ride, would not be riding alone.

Sure enough, a few minutes in, I came up on a group of 8 friends, all regulars and a few I have not seen since last November.  We were all pumped to be riding together again, on such a perfect evening for a ride.  Perhaps adding to my enjoyment as I joined them was the feeling that I am faster right now, a combo of the added strength from riding the fat bike since last January as well as a lighter body and carbon bike.  I am flying, maybe a little more confident.  During the course of the ride, only the leader was in front of me, and many riders waved me to the front as we entered a trail.  It was a good feeling, one I haven’t had for a while.  Oh, I have had my moments prior to now, but not like it is right now.

My friend is NOT going to get his full carbon Superfly back!  I wish I could keep it.  The speed is an awesome feeling, although with the added speed and ability to clear berms is a difference in handling.  Faster means I need to react quicker to an upcoming obstacle or tight turn, dig in a bit more.  As I get used to the bike, I am beginning to learn how to handle it.  I have yet to find a flow, something that I will need to ride with the faster riders (which may or may not happen), stay off of the brakes and let the bike go.  I had to be conscious of letting the bike slow before a descent and only feathering the brakes on the way down, if at all.

The ride ended in the parking lot with a bunch of us gathered in our chairs behind a friend’s truck, enjoying the stories from our ride well after the sun had gone down.  It was indeed a sublime, energizing evening.

I love to ride.  Have I ever said that?  🙂

 

Sunny and Single Track

In my world, every Saturday, every weekend, should have the same forecast — sunny and single track.  I am nearly 58 years old, yet nothing brings out the boy in me more than days like yesterday.  Even yet this morning, I am still energized, still buoyed by the ride.  It was one of those days where the plan went right, even when there were hiccups.

Sun greeted me as I pulled back the drapes and opened the bedroom blinds, as is my routine.  Prior to bed, the furnace had been turned off, the sliding glass doors in the living room and kitchen pulled open enough to let the fresh cool air fill the space in my small home.  There is a simple pleasure to pulling back the warm covers to be greeted by the coolness of a fresh morning, the warmth of the bed still with me as I pull a shirt over my head, shuffle to the kitchen and put the water on the stove to boil.  More often than not, I listen to some quiet music at the kitchen table while the honey sweetened oatmeal soothes me.  I checked the weather from my phone to confirm the day’s weather would be as promised — cool in the morning, 70 degree temperatures by the afternoon.  Satisfied, I determined my plan for the day would be to wait until the afternoon to ride, when I could ride in shorts and tee shirt, the damp from the previous days’ rain gone from the trails.

It was glorious.  In the morning, I performed the needed tasks and chores for my weekend, drove my son to work (he no longer has a car), then hit the trails.  My friend, Jim, has loaned me one of his two full carbon Trek Superfly mountain bikes to ride while I wait for a replacement.  I had picked up his soft tail bike a few days earlier, found it needed a few tweaks to be fully rideable — clean up the pads and rotors (the geese would have been following me through the woods), refresh the charge in the rear shock, adjust seat height.  The bike is indeed full carbon, including the wheels, so it’s a light ride.  I was glad for a chance to ride the first few miles of trail by myself, since I had to get used to handling a faster and lighter bike.  When I met my friends Greg and Ernesto on one of the trails, I was ready to go.  While it still took some effort to keep up, I did keep up, even cleared the most technical trail without a single dab, something I have only been able to accomplish once on my heavier aluminum Camber.  I witnessed Greg ride off the side of the trail to avoid some hikers, miraculously avoiding a fall down the side of a berm into the swampy waters.  He was not feeling well the rest of our ride.

I did visit the bike shop in the morning, as I had only talked to them over the phone prior to yesterday.  I wanted some more information on the frame replacement for my Specialized Camber FSR.  They really hadn’t given me much information at all, have not told me what is going to be involved.  When I brought my bike in to ask about the warranty, I had removed the chain and had installed a few new drive train components, so I wanted to know what was going to be reused.  I also wanted to know if they would be installing the new cassette and chain that I had.  They didn’t really know much at all, so I left them the new cassette and chain, assuming that the replacement frame was going to be frame only (I assume that is the case).  I asked them once again to consider asking Specialized to send a large frame instead of a medium, a request that was instantly rejected.  I didn’t fight and told them I wouldn’t fight them, but did ask them if it would be better if their customer was 100% satisfied instead of feeling placated.  The response was a weak grin, as if I was being a jerk for asking.  I don’t feel like a jerk for asking.  I work for the factory, know it can be uncomfortable asking them for a little more, but also know it’s more important to make sure a customer is satisfied with the outcome than to simply do the least.  That’s the sure way to lose a customer.  Do I think I will go elsewhere?  Not likely, but I sure would like to see my shop try to do a little more for me.

It was still a sunny day.  It was a wonderful ride, the pleasant burn of fatigue in my legs a welcome reminder of an effort that was never an effort.  When I got home, I showered, ran an errand, then enjoyed a pleasant dinner with a pretty neighbor who is becoming a nice friend.  I walked her to her front door after dinner, early, then hit the sack around 10 PM.  This was an early morning, since I took that neighbor friend to the airport at 5 this morning.

Enjoy your day.  May your day be sunny and single track!

Bittersweet

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My Specialized Camber FSR, last year.

The ride was a fun jaunt , a blessing as it was a beautiful day to ride with good trail conditions, something we don’t get much of in late December here in northern Illinois.  I was riding with Greg and Ernesto, two talented riders and friends.  They had been joking about how I don’t shift — my preference is to muscle over the tough stuff.  It slows me down.  Greg especially likes to bust my chops, his way of teaching me a few things about riding a mountain bike.  The guy is very good on a bike and each time I ride with him, my skills improve as he shows me something else to help me out.  During the ride, I was intentionally shifting before hitting a steep section or roots.  The shifting didn’t seem quite right.

We were about done with our ride, riding a semi technical trail called Wildcat on our way back to the parking lot.  I shifted to an easier gear to get up and over a large root, a frightful clunk from my rear derailleur as I pushed to get over the root.  I braked immediately and hoped that the derailleur hadn’t been bent or sucked into the rear spokes.  Nothing of that sort had happened, but the chain had slipped over the rear cassette (the gear cluster).  I pulled the chain out and back in place, but noticed that the derailleur wasn’t aligned right.  Sure enough, I climbed back on the bike and turned the pedals, only to have the chain slip over the rear cogs again.  I had no choice but to heft the Camber over my shoulder and tote it back the short walk to the parking lot.

My friends looked my bike over, were puzzled over the position of the derailleur.  It wasn’t bent nor did the hanger look bent, but it was clearly positioned too far inward, almost in the spokes.  Normally, I would have dropped the bike off at the shop on the way home, but I was severely cash strapped at the time and my credit card was screaming from a recent expensive repair (as I am accustomed to) on my VW.  The mountain bike would have to wait until I could give it attention or I had the money to have the shop repair it.  My gut told me that it was real possible this was going to be bad.

January came with new snow and the fat bike purchase, a deal so good I could not pass it up.  While my friend sold me that bike with the understanding that I would pay him as I could, it meant that extra money would go towards that bike and not towards fixing my Specialized Camber FSR mountain bike.  I rode the fat bike with the idea I would replace the shifting components on my mountain bike in time for Spring single track.  That is what I did.  I ordered new 36T chain ring (it’s a 2 x 10 set up), chain, cassette, SRAM GX medium cage derailleur, derailleur hanger.  The chain ring was replaced first, bottom bracket cleaned and inspected.  I installed the new derailleur hanger, then the derailleur.

The new derailleur wouldn’t align, hung the same way the old one had the day the bike broke down.  Uh oh.  I set the bike aside.  When my friend, Jeremy, came over last Saturday for a ride, he took a look at the bike… and saw the issue immediately.  Jeremy is a good wrench, an experienced bike mechanic.  The frame on my Specialized was cracked at the chainstay, twisted enough so that the derailleur would not align.  I took my bike to the shop that afternoon (two weeks ago), hoping that the lifetime frame warranty that the manufacturer advertises would be honored.  I needed it to be.  I can’t afford to have it fixed right now, or worse need to buy a new bike.  Recent news of a $4000 federal tax debt, coupled with upcoming property taxes and other expenses have me financially challenged.  I don’t need another debt.

The shop manager didn’t paint a rosy picture when he looked at my bike.  He inspected it to see if a frame pivot bearing had seized and had caused the frame to stress.  The bearing wasn’t seized, but he prepared me for possible bad news from the manufacturer.  They may not honor the warranty.

No news from the shop on Monday.  I waited until late Tuesday afternoon, then called the shop.  They told me the warranty claim had been submitted.  The Specialized rep had not responded on the warranty claim yet.  I was worried.  My bike model has been discontinued, so frame parts may not be available.  Would they replace the entire frame?

I received an email from the shop yesterday afternoon, with news that the frame section could not be replaced, as I had expected.  Specialized had to send a whole new frame as a warranty replacement.  I would be responsible to pay $200 for the labor to put the bike together.

 

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This was a pic taken not too long after I bought my Camber.  The small fit should be obvious.

Good news!  There was one concern, however.  I wished the shop had called to get my OK.  Why?  My bike is a medium frame, has always been too small for my 6’1″ body.  When I bought the bike, I was too excited to finally have my first new bicycle, my first new “expensive” bicycle.  It was my baby, the bike I had waited decades to be able to buy.  Even though it felt too small from the first day I rode it, I didn’t take it back because I was too much of a weenie to wait (or have to pay more money) to get a large frame.  So, when I received the email from the shop yesterday about the replacement frame, I immediately replied and asked if the replacement frame could be a large instead of medium.

When I didn’t get a reply back, I called.  The shop told me that Specialized would not give me a large frame.  It had to be the same size as the frame it was replacing.

*Sigh*

Rather than make a stink, I thanked them and ended the call.  I am disappointed.  Instead of feeling 100% satisfied, I am feeling a little disrespected.  At the moment, I feel like I just had my hand slapped for making the request, like I was asking too much of them.  I shouldn’t feel that way.  Why not try to make me 100% satisfied?  I am a loyal customer and one who will eventually buy more bikes — but I am not feeling so good right now, when I should be ecstatic.  Instead, it’s a let down.  I am contemplating selling the replacement bike as soon as I get it (hopefully, next week), use the money from the sale to buy a bike I will be happier with.  One that fits me and allows me to fully enjoy my rides.  I don’t like the idea of making payments on another bike right now, as it will stretch my budget beyond what I am comfortable with.  Heck, I don’t even have the $200 for the labor charge I am going to have to pay!

I have needed to replace my Camber due to the fit problem.  The seat tube has to be extended so far that it often falls during the course of a ride, taxing my knees and affecting performance.  Maybe this is the push I needed to get my cheap butt out to buy a new bike, despite whether I can afford it or not.  Specialized is fantastic, but there are other manufacturers out there who will want my business.  We shall see.  Santa Cruz, maybe?  Salsa?  Trek?  Pivot?  Ibis?

Go Away, Mister Lazy

Couches are a tool of the devil.  Rain clouds sometimes blow away without unleashing their wetness upon the landscape.  Spandex is useful even when worn under cargo shorts and a long sleeved tee, yet you can’t cover up dorky.  Cloudy fatigue more often than not is transformed to clear energy when fun exercise is applied.  Life has a  darker grey side and a bright side — and the bright side is always there if you look for it.

There you have it, my words of wisdom and elderly knowledge, relearned or reapplied yesterday evening.  I arrived home from work yesterday evening, a bit depressed by the clouds that loomed overhead and the promise of rain to fall.  Earlier in the day, group texts from my mountain biking friends indicated that the trails were in fantastic shape.  My stomach groaned at me, begged me to be fed, even as my brain told me to take a nap.  Even a cruise on the forest preserve paths close by seemed to be a no go, the looming clouds and cloudy fog in my head an indication that laziness was in order for the evening.  I didn’t want that at all.  I could feel a bit of depression sinking in, common sense fighting to take control of the lazy devil on my shoulder, so riding would energize me and turn my mind back to the bright side.

Part of the cloudy outlook comes from waiting for a factory warranty decision on my Specialized Camber FSR mountain bike.  It’s my baby, a prize of sorts, the first and only new bike I have been able to buy in my 30 years of cycling.  When I discovered the cracked frame last Saturday, my heart sunk even with the knowledge of the factory lifetime frame warranty.  It’s a limited warranty, which my shop reminded me of as they inspected my bike and checked the frame pivot bearings for seizure.  They are not seized, but he told me that the factory could claim they had been seized when the frame cracked, voiding the warranty.  I wanted to argue, wanted to ask why an aluminum frame would crack even with a seized bearing, but hard knocks has taught me to keep the arguments to a minimum.  Good will wins more often than an argument.  I called yesterday afternoon to check on the status of the bike, was told that since the shop is closed on Wednesdays there likely wouldn’t be a decision on the bike warranty until Thursday.  It sucks to wait.

IMG_20190403_120759501On the bright side, a good friend offered to let me borrow his mountain bikes.  He has a hard tail Trek Superfly with carbon frame and wheels, as well as a full suspension carbon Specialized Epic.  The guy is a triathlete, rarely rides his mountain bikes because he follows a training schedule.  He had bought the Superfly when he rode Leadville a few years ago, the Epic just because he had a girlfriend who wanted to ride single track now and then.  I texted him after I pouted on the devil’s tool for a few minutes and observed a few breaks in the clouds.  Go for it, you will be glad you did was what I told myself.  My friend texted me back, encouraged me to take both bikes if I wanted them, gave me the security code to his garage door.

He also asked me to not do anything obnoxious if anyone was looking at his house.  He just listed it for sale.  I am not sure why my friend would be worried about my behavior (wink wink).  I didn’t tell him how I was dressed, as that might have scared potential buyers away as well, spandex ‘capri’ bib shorts underneath ragged old cotton cargo shorts, long sleeved tee underneath a black zip up ski vest.  I told my friend that there indeed had been people looking at his house (a fib) and that I advised them he would knock $10,000 off the price if I could live with them for free.  🙂

I rode the Trek, immediately amazed at how light and responsive the bike felt underneath me.  It took a few minutes to get used to the handling.  The lighter bike was faster, but the tires are set up more for a gravel type of race and not for dirt.  Once I got used to digging into the corners, something I take for granted on my heavier aluminum Camber, I was having a ton of fun.  It doesn’t hurt that my legs are already ready from the past few months of regular riding on my fat tired bike.  My friend, Roy, had arrived at the trailhead at the same time and was riding with me.  Halfway into our ride, he stopped and told me that he was having a hard time keeping up with me.  I had dropped him a few times by then, aware that he was on his third day in a row of riding and was fatigued.  It boosted my mood (and ego) though — normally Roy is the one who is taking it easy for me!

I arrived home, my energy and mood elevated, the grilled chicken and veggies for dinner even more tasty.  The exercise relaxed me so much that I fell asleep texting a friend, who had slipped a bag of peanut butter cookies in my mailbox while I was out riding.

Lessons relearned, old knowledge renewed.  Mister Lazy did not prevail.

Bike Beginnings

I have talked plenty about how cycling has provided a therapeutic balance to my life and soul and body, rescued me in a sense, a type of salvation.  When life seems tough or I am not feeling physically well, riding brings me back to focus, calms me in a way that brings healthy clarity.  In a sense, riding also allows me to reach inside myself, find that place where I can approach my maker.  I believe that my existence is truly my soul.  Riding brings me there like nothing else can.  Cycling is God’s gift to me, one of the ways he is able to communicate with me.

The past few days have required calm and clarity.  Stress was affecting me physically, enough that I was concerned.  I need to think through the new challenges with a wisdom that I really don’t possess.  Thankfully, I have a strong relationship with my father as well as solid friendships that provide support.  When it comes down to it, though, the decisions are mine to make — although the decisions also involve my son and his mother, my ex.  There is temptation to simply appease them, bandage the new wound caused by the loss of my son’s car.  If the decision is a quick fix, it’s not likely going to be the most sound decision.  My ex wants to buy him another car.  That’s the quick fix.  But I have a large federal tax bill to pay, property taxes due by the end of May.  Adding another payment to an already tight budget will not be a wise decision.

It took some slowing down to bring me to the point of knowing that waiting is the best approach.  My body and mind had to slow down together to come to that point.  Cycling and prayer has done that for me, I think, as well as spending some time with a good friend.

Monday night, as I felt the affect of the previous day’s elevated stress and blood pressure, I skipped the opportunity to ride.  Instead, I opted to ask a neighbor to share the fajitas I had slow cooked all.  It wasn’t an evening of woe is me soul baring, it was an evening of enjoying the company of a friend, my body telling me quickly by the way I felt as I relaxed.  It was the right thing to do.  Funny, as I arrived home from work on Monday, I prayed and knew what to do that evening.  It didn’t take a bike ride for me to be able to listen.

I needed more, though.  My body needed to recover from the stress, even as I had began to relax.  Tuesday evening temperature was in the upper 40s to low 50s, so I set out on my fat bike for a ride through the area forest preserves.  Most of the crushed limestone trails were dry enough for an easy ride.  As I warmed up, I felt the ease of pedaling and my pace picked up.  Halfway into my ride, I crossed paths with two experienced riders, exchanged pleasantries as they admired my 9;Zero;7 fat bike (it’s a conversation piece as it’s a little unique).  The pace was brisk and I was up to the task, my attitude coming up the more we rode.  After a few miles, they headed in another direction as I broke off in the direction of Mount Hoy, a former landfill that provides a progressively steep and moderately long climb.  I chose the path up the side of the landfill rather than the grassy slope for my climb, the satisfaction of pushing through the last 20 or so yards giving me energy as I crested the top of the landfill and was treated to the awesome clear view from the top.  I circled the top a few times as I caught my breath, then streaked down the grassy slope on the other side, exhiliarated by the speed while I rushed towards the bottom.  I cruised home through the woods and over the river bridge that had once served as the entrance to a franciscan sisters prayer retreat.  The energy of the ride buoyed me the entire rest of the evening.  I could already feel myself beginning to process more clearly the thoughts I need to address right now.

Last night was awesome, shirtsleeve and shorts weather, a welcomed day after the winter temperatures.  Trail reports for the mountain bike trails I ride were that they were in prime condition.  After making some adjustments to my bike, I loaded my bike up on the bike of my car, went to the trails.  I was greeted there by Deni, an enthusiastic 19 year old who loves to ride with my friends and I.  He and I rode for an hour and a half, once again at a strong pace, the rush of the singletrack adding even more energy.  Once again, I came home feeling even better.

Cycling.  Friends.  All gifts from God.  All ways he speaks to me.  I feel it, understand more, thankful that I am able to listen.

BOOM!!!!!

Life has been a literal whirlwind lately, with a lot of challenges thrown at me almost simultaneously.  I like to think that somehow I am more equipped to deal with those challenges now, whether that is true or not.  The past few days tested me more than a little bit, pushed me literally to emotional limits that also affected me physically.  That wasn’t unusual during the course of my marriage, but my response to the current challenges has me proud.

Last week started with a work trip to Florida, responsibilities a bit out of my comfort zone as those responsibilities required me to lead training seminars for a customer with enormous potential.  While I found that I am more than capable and performed very well, my normally adequate ego was feeling the shrink caused by the cold reality that I am self trained.  I felt inadequate going in to the trip, made me overcompensate a bit to the point of being over prepared.  The salesman I accompanied gave me high marks to my boss, something that was shared with my tired soul when I returned to the office last Thursday.

Yes, the innuendo is intentional.  🙂

Tired was the word, but not too much.  I had tried to save my company money by taking the red eye flight home to Chicago from Tampa, a $97 flight, arrived home after midnight.  I still arrived to work at my normal 8:30 AM start time, beat both of my coworkers in.

Yes, the adequate ego is still adequate.

The challenges started last Friday, when I received a call from the internet and cable TV provider that shall remain unnamed.  I think they are getting too big for their britches.  The caller informed me that my promotional rate was about to expire.  What promotional rate?, I inquired, I didn’t sign a promotional contract.  I was informed that 24 months, I did get a promotional rate that is going to expire in a month.  If I didn’t sign up for another plan, my monthly rate would be roughly $280.  SAY WHAT?!!!!?  All I can say is, that’s a crappy sales pitch.  I asked the salesman to send me the options via email and I would consider each one, then make a decision.  He had called me while I am at work, after all, and right in the middle of preparing a rush quote.  That wasn’t possible, he told me, it had to be done over the phone and at that moment.  If not, they would call me back at a more convenient time, but nothing could be done by email.  I wasn’t kind to the guy (no acid, just firm), didn’t cut him any slack, told him that I don’t do anything over the phone.  Why not just give me the same plan, at the same rate, and be done with it.  Was that possible?  No.  The guy wouldn’t budge, but he was also getting frustrated with me… and hung up.

Yes, that’s how my weekend started.

Friday therapy night was great, as usual.  My friend John was back from his vacation travels, raring to go after signing up for an online dating site.  Jim and I spent a good deal of the evening helping him with his profile message and picture choices, even enlisted the aid of Jim’s girlfriend (via text) for the profile.  There was a joke that one woman on the site rejected and didn’t respond at all to Jim when he was using the site, and Jim would pay for their first date if John got her to respond.  “We” sent her a message — and SHE RESPONDED.  They are planning to meet this weekend, are hitting it off.  John is off and running.  Jim is annoyed — he’s not used to rejection.

Saturday was nice weather, low 50 degree temperatures, which means I rode the trails in shorts.  Woooohoooooo!  I finished my ride, loaded the bike up on the car, got in and checked my phone.  Uh oh.  A message from my ex that simply said call me as soon as you can.  Another message from my accountant, who is doing my taxes, an ominous message about not having enough withholding that looked scary.  I called my ex and found out that our son had a car accident, was OK, but his car was likely totaled.

Yes, GULP.

I hustled home, as I needed to not only prepare for a 5 o’clock meeting with friends and I also had to walk the cute little 3 month old female chow puppy that my brother had dropped off earlier in the day.  I was going to be dog sitting in my second floor condo for five days.  I made it home, walked the puppy, played with her a bit, cleaned up and left to meet my friends.  We went to a bonfire later on, had a grand time.  It was a great evening.  I came home fairly early, around 10:30 PM, to find…. uh oh.

Yes, uh oh.

Chows are very strong dogs, even as three month old puppies.  While I was gone, she decided that maybe I or someone else was on the other side of the heavy sliding wooden door that I had closed to keep her in my little galley kitchen.  She slammed into the closed door, likely multiple times, and knocked it out of track.  When I walked through my front door at 10:30, she greeted me at the front door.  The bottom of the door was extended out at least two feet.  Oh no.

Yes, OH NO!

My crazy downstairs neighbor must have been freaking out all evening from the noise of the dog.  Sure enough, the sound of my footsteps must have cued my neighbor of my arrival, because her patio light went on immediately and I could see her pacing out in front of her patio.  Moments later, I was treated to the sound of a Polish woman screeching loudly up at me.  I guarantee she was waiting for the drama, as she had observed me walking the puppy earlier that day.  I had also seen her husband in the hallway, where he asked me if I had a new dog and I told him that I was just dog sitting.

Yes, just dog sitting.  It was completely obvious very soon that did not matter.

Chows are darling, especially three month old puppies.  Chows are endearing.  Chows bond quickly and are very loving.  I was immediately Chloe’s best buddy.. and she would not leave me alone.  Chows are also very aggressive, which combined with their strength and intelligence makes them excellent guard dogs.  Note that in the picture I was sitting on the floor.  That worked better with her, because otherwise she would have demanded my attention.

Yes, that’s a black tongue.  Isn’t she adorable?  The short snout also causes her to snort.

I tried to leave for church, abandoned the closed kitchen door strategy, gave her a long leash and tied her to the kitchen table.  Chloe was barking before I even came close to the front door, and loudly.  Arrrrrggggghhhhh.  Teresa the Terrible, my neighbor, was already freaking out.  I left any way, hoped that the barking would cease shortly after I left.  Alas, I could hear barking as I walked outside through the courtyard and from my car.  I drove a few miles, the stress starting to rise and my better judgement telling me that I had better go back home.  I did.  She was still barking.

Yes, so was my downstairs neighbor, although her bark is a frantically anxious shriek.

I could hear her through her door as I walked up the stairs to my unit.  With each shriek, I could feel my blood pressure rising, something I have not felt in years.  Barking greeted me as I walked through my front door.  Nearly defeated, I released Chloe from her leash and hugged her as I sat on the floor with her.  She ate that up, little licks and nibbles demonstrating her enthusiastic affection for me.  What could I do about the situation?  I was beginning to feel trapped.  Not wanting to be held captive by my furry guest, craving the calm of a church worship service, I decided to risk letting her have the run of my small house.  Maybe she wouldn’t be so anxious, maybe she wouldn’t destroy anything from anxiety?  Cautiously, I walked out the front door.  She wanted to run out with me, but I stopped her, frowned as she whimpered at me.  I closed the door, walked slowly down the stairs as I listened for barking, hearing a loud whining whimper but no barking.  Maybe this was going to work?  I stopped at the landing, listened some more, hopeful I would be able to leave.

Yes, I was too hopeful.

As I stood on the landing, listening to the quiet whimper of the puppy from my condo unit above, a sudden loud commotion emerged as my neighbor loudly barged through her front door.  Complaints of he and that dog were making loud noise all last night, as well as I am getting sick of him nearly bowled me over as my neighbor angrily emerged while shrieking back at her husband, only to see me and zip back inside her condo as she slammed her door behind her.  The commotion continued on the other side of the door.

Yes, it was obvious she was destined for my front door.

It was also painfully obvious that I couldn’t keep this puppy, even for the few days I was supposed to dog sit.  Defeated, I trudged back upstairs to my home, greeted by a happy furball.  I looked down at her, apologized with the tears beginning to form.  What could I do?  My brother in his family were hours away, enjoying the sites in Washington, DC.  No way was I going to be able to leave this dog alone.  The next day and the days to follow until my brother would get home, I knew there was no way I could go to work — and I had to go to work as my boss was going to be travelling.  With dread, I texted my brother, asked him if it was possible to put Chloe in a kennel.  I knew the answer to that.  This puppy is only three months old, so she hasn’t had the shots required to board her.

My brother tried to find a kennel, but confirmed what I already knew, that she could not be boarded.  He called and apologized, assured me that he understands my situation.  Go ahead and load her up, drive south towards central Illinois, where our brother and our father live.  He would contact them and ask them to meet me halfway, take the dog from me.  This was something he knew might happen, that the dog would make too much noise and possibly become destructive.  It just looked like it wouldn’t happen.  The kitchen door should have been adequate to contain her and keep her calm.

I loaded her stuff in my car, put her in the back seat and began the drive south, not knowing if either my other brother or my father would be able to meet me.  The stress was really beginning to affect my blood pressure, the dizziness of elevated blood pressure starting to show up.  It didn’t help that the puppy wouldn’t stay in the back seat.  I tried letting her have the passenger seat next to me, but she wanted to be in my lap.  She also was getting anxious, her snorts increasing, my own anxiety increasing as I tried to deal with driving and her persistence.  Eventually, my dad called and just in time.  My blood pressure had elevated so much that I could barely breathe, much less drive.  He was worried, told me to turn around, go home and he would pick her up at my place.  I bought a bottle of water, sipped it as I drove carefully home, downed an extra dose of my blood pressure meds when I got home — which worked but really threw me into a loop.

Yes, I survived the day.

Monday was a new day — and an extremely busy day.  After lunch, I had to deal simultaneously with the insurance company calling about my son’s accident claim, my accountant wanting to talk about my tax return, my son calling about my accident,.. and another friend who wanted me to dog sit for him!  I survived, but had to deal with several items of bad news at once.  Over $4000 owed to federal taxes due to a withholding error, my son’s car totaled and too expensive to fix (liability insurance only).  I could only shrug my shoulders.  I can make it through this as I have many times before, said a prayer (which calmed me), then sat down to catch my breath and focus on the many blessings.  That helped me to see that it’s not so bad.

A friend came over that evening to share dinner with me, brought relaxation and calm back to me.  Calm and slightly warm weather has allowed me to ride, and ride quite well I must add, the last two evenings.  All is well.

Yes, all is well.

Burning Flesh

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My feeble mind goes back a few years to a day when perhaps my life was spared.  I still remember the acrid scent of burning flesh and ozone, the horrified look on my son’s face after he had witnessed his father being thrown across the room by forces unbeknownst to him.  I was attempting my first minor project that involved house current, too cheap or too poor to hire someone to do the job who actually knew what they were doing.  We, meaning my former wife and I, had redone our son’s room to a sports theme, with walls painted to resemble grass, a border of various and assorted balls, shelfs lined with his collection of trophies, a sports themed switch plate.  The final touch was to add a soccer ball light fixture to the ceiling fan.

I was up to the task, a little research on how to retrofit a ceiling fan done on the internet.  Armed with YouTube handyman courage, I climbed the short metal extension ladder in the middle of the bedroom, screwdriver in hand, prepared for what I thought was the most simple task to add to my arsenal of household accomplishments.  The breaker to the bedroom was shut off, the master wall switch in the off position.  I should have been safe.

Do I even need to say how wrong I was?

The cover plate on the ceiling fan was removed easily, the wires disconnected.  I put the retrofit fixture for the light in place, attached the wires to the terminal connections then gingerly put my screwdriver on the terminals to tighten them down.

POOF!!!!!!!!

I had touched the metal of the screwdriver against the ceiling fan housing, only to discover that I should have shut off the mains at the breaker box.  Horrified, my son watched as I was launched off the ladder and across the room.  He bolted (a ironic term) out of the room to retrieve his mother, sure that his father was singing with the angels.  I came to as the scent of my own burning flesh mixed with the smell of fresh ozone.  I looked at my hand, still tingling from the trauma created by the introduction of house electricity, intrigued by the slightly smoking black spot in the side of my knuckle.  The current had entered there.  Further inspection revealed where the jolt of electricity had exited at my elbow.

I wondered if I had super powers as a result.  They have yet to emerge.

Recently, the recessed light in my shower stall ceased to work.  I knew failure was coming, since it often shut off a minute or two into a shower as the fixture overheated.  It was only a matter of time before the light quit working.  After it failed, I investigated the cause.  It wasn’t the breaker, which sometimes had to be reset after the light shut off.  It wasn’t the switch.  Replacement bulbs didn’t solve the problem.  It was obvious that either the light socket or the heat sensor on the fixture had burned out.

Crap.  I am still too cheap to pay someone to fix it.  That meant I had to risk my life again to fix it on my own.

 

This time experience was on my side, as well as a whole lot better breaker box.  Now I live in a condo, with the main power on a different floor and away from my condo unit.  Shutting off the main power was as simple to going to the condo building utility room and shutting off the main to my unit.  I connected an extension cord and utility light to a hallway outlet so that I would have light in my bathroom while performing the task of replacing the light socket.  I had decided to retrofit a LED light kit, which meant I had to cut the wires, remove the existing socket and bracket, and strip the wires to wire the new light fixture in.  I performed the task as I stood in the tub, half expecting to meet Jesus as I cut the wires.  Half surprised at the lack of response as I cut the wires, then stripped the insulation back and connected the wires with nuts, a relieved SHenry completed the task.  I inserted the next fixture into the recessed can in the shower stall ceiling, cleaned up, turned on the main power, flipped the switch.

VOILA!  Success.  Glorious success.  The new LED fixture worked without flaw and looks even better than the original incandescent light.

A friend heard of my success (bragging is never a good idea) and now wants me to replace her failed closet light.  She had better make it worth it….

The Bachelors

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Dad and Nikki a few years ago, at home. Neither has changed.. and that’s great!

We painted the town last weekend, our brushes missing a few hairs and the colors running a little thin, but we painted nonetheless.  I know my dad well enough to know a quiet time is just as enjoyable as trying to see everything possible in a day or two.  So, we mixed in quite a bit of just sitting in the living room with the fireplace warming us to an occasional nap.  That was perfectly acceptable and OK.

Dad called me Friday afternoon, asked me if I was home from work yet.  He was two minutes away from my place, nearly an hour earlier than expected.  I was not surprised.  He always leaves early, likes to take his time on a trip, stops when he feels like it.  The thing is, once he starts driving he is not going to stop as much as anticipated.  My father transports cars for a dealership, his retirement job.  Even though he is well suited for the greeter’s job at Walmart, he is just as well suited to drive cars.  He loves it, gets to drive a variety of different vehicles, something he likes to tell me about.  Want an opinion on a Kia, Toyota, Chevy, Ford, Honda, VW, Dodge, Chrysler?  Name the model and he has been behind the wheel.. and has a strong opinion.  Dad always has a strong opinion.

I knew he would be early.  I was home and waiting for him.  There was one problem — Dad has only been to my condo once.  All of the condo buildings in the complex look the same.  I waited a half hour for him to show, figured out that he probably was sitting in front of the wrong building.  I called.

“Did you get lost?”, I asked.

“I am out front, been here for a while.  Already walked the dog.”  Dad replied with assurance (he also talks in clipped sentences).

“That’s just what I thought.  I am standing out front, in the middle of the street.”

Dad read off a street number.  He was right around the corner, just out of my line of sight.  I guided him to my place until I saw his little gray Nissan truck appear around the corner.  I heard quite a bit about that little gray truck over the weekend, as he is very proud of that truck.  Over the years, I have become accustomed to Dad talking with pride about everything he buys.  That includes how he came about finding said prize and the tweaks he makes to it.  It’s endearing and, well, it’s Dad.

Dad pulled up and opened the rear passenger door to reveal Nikki, his little Shetland Sheepdog.  She is his constant companion, has been for years, but especially since Mom passed.  I really don’t think Dad could leave Nikki with someone else.  The pup is a bit spoiled, evidenced by the weight she is carrying now.  I had to help her out of the truck by picking her up, then watched her waddle carefully to my father’s side.  Once we reached the lobby of my building, she hesitated at the bottom of the steps to my unit, waited until Dad carried her up the short flight of stairs to my second floor home.  That was the routine all weekend, whether going up or down those stairs.

The plan for Friday evening was to meet my friends, Jim and John, for our regular ‘therapy’ session.  They had insisted on meeting Dad.  We arrived early, which may have been a good thing.  Our regular waitress, Emily, smiled as Dad tried to negotiate the beer menu.  Dad’s not a beer drinker, but boldly tried the different craft brews.  We finally decided that the brewer’s own cinnamon root beer would be the best choice for him.

It was.. and Dad proudly chirped about it the rest of the weekend.

He was a hit with my friends.  I sat back, quietly observed as he interacted with them.  It was a joy to share him with them, even better as it was obvious they enjoyed talking with him.  Dad is pretty interesting.  I learned a few little tidbits about him, stories that I knew a little about, his experiences during the early days of mainframe computers very cool.  He learned about computers by working with one of the first three Univac computers installed in the world.  He also worked for Ross Perot at the beginning of the 1970’s, when Perot was working to free POW’s in Vietnam.  Dad soaked up stories about the military that my friend Jim told to him, stories about Hawaii and Canada that my friend John told to him.  Dad had a great time, told me so before he left Sunday afternoon.

We took in the Chicago Auto Show on Saturday.  I let Dad drive his truck to the show.  He was dying to show it off to me.  For a 79 year old, Dad does very well.  The auto show is at the large expo center in Chicago, McCormick Place.  To his credit, we walked the whole show for three hours, barely took a break.  I have to laugh at how Dad flirted with the pretty and outgoing parking lot shuttle driver.  He talked about her several times on the way home.  The guy was smitten.

Naps were in store when we got home, the fireplace lit and a movie on TV.  We talked on and off, Nikki resting up on the recliner with Dad.. although now and then she asked for assistance down, so she could get attention from me.  Nikki may waddle, but she loves it when I play with her.  After descending from the recliner, she approached me with a few yips, demanded my attention.

Dinner on Saturday evening was good.  Dad was jonesing for good BBQ ribs, so I took him to a place called the Patio.  Excellent food.  We ate, chatted for over an hour over coffee after dinner.

Sunday morning, we went to church early, had some coffee in the lobby while we waited for service to start.  It was my chance to be proud.  Dad had not been to my church since the large addition and auditorium was built.  He was impressed.  The service was good, but Dad let me know that one song the band played “is not my favorite”.  That’s my father.  He was interested in everything, since he has been appointed to a committee at his church to hire a new music minister.  Going to my church gave him some ideas.  We have an excellent band and worship team.

Brunch at Cracker Barrel.  Dad didn’t need to see the menu.  More conversation, probably longer than the folks at Cracker Barrel liked.  We kept our table for a while.

It was a great time.  Dad excused himself a bit early.  There was a winter storm in Chicagoland on Sunday, so he wanted to make sure he travelled during daylight.  He called while he was driving (had to show off the Bluetooth in that truck), let me know when he arrived home.

Good time.  We shared a lot.  It’s tough for him, for the both of us, without Mom, but we are getting along fine.  Dad talks more about dying now, sees the light at the end of the tunnel.  I keep telling him that he doesn’t know really how long he has left.  Neither do I, for that matter.  We are both enjoying what time we have, happy to be alive.